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Brain injury claim will have a huge impact on rugby at all levels

A High Court claim launched by almost 300 former rugby union players will have a “huge impact” on the sport regardless of the outcome, according to a legal expert. 

A group of 295 former players recently went to the High Court in London in the latest stage of their claim for damages against rugby’s governing bodies. 

The players are all suffering with various irreversible neurological impairments including early onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and believe their brain injuries came as a result of playing rugby. 

They claim they were not aware that taking part in the sport would cause such problems and that the rugby authorities failed to adequately protect them. 

The group of former players includes Steve Thompson, Phil Vickery and Mark Regan, who were all members of England’s 2003 World Cup winning squad, plus former England scrum half Harry Ellis, former Wales stars Gavin Henson, Colin Charvis, Ryan Jones and Dafydd James, and ex-Scotland international Sean Lamont. 

The claimants have submitted over 5,000 pages of supporting medical records, case summaries and other documents. The litigation – which first began in 2020 – is against World Rugby, England’s Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union.  

The cases are unlikely to come to trial before the end of 2024. 

Lee Hart, partner and personal injury team manager at Clarke Willmott in Taunton, says rugby union at every level will be impacted by the case – irrespective of the result. 

“The challenge in these cases is proving the causal link between the alleged breach of duty of care and the injury/loss,” he says. 

“Comparisons are often made with United States where more than 4,500 former American Football players brought claims for damages against the NFL for neurological diseases as a result of repeated contacts to the head. A settlement was approved by the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court in 2016 for around $765 million. 

“Claims involving large numbers of claimants against sports associations in this country are rare but given the level of control exercised by those bodies over the conditions in which professional sport is played, there remains a chance of establishing that a duty of care was owed by the governing bodies to participants. 

“Whatever the outcome, whether a settlement can be reached between the parties, or the claims are determined at trial, it will have a huge impact on the sport of rugby in schools, at amateur and professional levels.”